Thursday, April 19, 2012

Schools: Is transformative change from within possible?

There's an old joke that if someone fell asleep for 100 years, the only things they'd recognize upon waking would be prisons and schools. The notion that schools staunchly resist change is fairly ubiquitous. In a recent 60 Minutes episode about Khan Academy, Eric Schmidt - the pioneering chairman of Google - was asked why the innovative ideas exemplified by Khan Academy didn't come from an educator. Schmidt responded that innovation never comes from the established institutions; it comes from someone with a great vision.

It is a troubling notion to think that teachers and administrators become so dug in that they work hard to maintain the status quo. However, is Mr. Schmidt correct in his assertion? Innovative teachers at some Ivy League universities may have already proven him to be wrong.

Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel's course "Justice" is available online. Dr. Sandel, a philosophy professor, presents 12 lectures on topics such loyalty, lying, free choice, taxation, reproductive rights, and affirmative action. For the majority of the population around the world, who will never be able to attend Harvard, here is a chance to see and learn. The lectures, not surprisingly, are great.

Additionally, NPR recently presented a segment entitled, From Silicon Valley, A New Approach to Education.

According to NPR, Stanford University computer science professor Andrew Ng is leading a new approach to education. He opened up one of his courses online and 100,000 students signed up. Students were able to participate in classes, do homework, and get assessments. "Stanford has always been a place where people are not afraid to try bold new things,"said their dean of engineering. Educators, from universities like Harvard, Stanford,  Penn, and Michigan, who are involved in efforts to  ensure that millions of people might have access to the best education available, have shown that schools can and should lead the way to use educational innovation to change lives and maybe change the world for the better.

Schools, established institutions if you will, can be the sources of innovation instead of the butt of well-worn jokes. The great visionaries within school systems need to step forward and be heard. And, if they are not heard, they need to get the top job and run the place.

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